During the U.S. Civil War (1861-1865) patriotic stationery—illustrated letterheads and envelopes—was widely used, particularly for letters to and from the battlefront. These envelopes are known to collectors as “patriotic covers.” However, the first picture-backed government-issued postal cards were produced in Austria-Hungary, and the images depicted the Franco-Prussian War. Nearly three million of these cards sold in 1870.

The popularity of postcards began to decline during World War I. At the time, many American companies had designed their own postcards, but they had been shipped to Germany or Austria for high-quality and low-cost printing. Even English publishers, like Raphael Tuck and Sons, had their cards printed in Germany or Austria. Thus the Great War, beginning in 1914, disrupted the production of cards. Plus, the somber mood created by the conflict made postcards seem like disrespectful frivolities. In 1918, the postage rates for postcards doubled, and after the war, telephones became the preferred means for staying in touch.

Even so, U.S. manufacturers began to produce their own cards around 1915. These were much lower in quality, as lush lithography was replaced by half-tone process printing, and they generally had a white border. But the war was a compelling reason to send postcards across the Atlantic in both directions, as soldiers and their loved ones exchanged updates via post. Wartime postcards most often depicted military leaders, officers, and soldiers, as well as explosions and bombed-out buildings.

In Europe, the war was all-consuming, resulting in a plethora of propaganda postcards which solidified the divide between “us” and “them” on both sides. “Positive” propaganda cards rallied both the Allies and Central Powers to fight “For King and Country.” On the other hand, “negative” propaganda cards were designed to ridicule and belittle enemies.

Central Powers postcards asserted the superiority of German people and technology and the inferiority of the Allies. In such comic cards, the Allies would be subjected to a demeaning type of punishment reserved for children or dogs. Even the German mythological figure Michel, who represents the laid-back and gentle side of the national character, was depicted as an aggressor. The Allies would often be portrayed as animals that did not deserve human respect.

Some of the most powerful anti-German propaganda postcard sets were produced by Italian postcard artist Tito Corbell, who made an important series of cards telling the story of nurse Edith Cavell, who was killed by German soldiers. Collectors, however, tend to favor Corbell’s more lighthearted work, like his images of glamorous women.

In England, the Bamforth publishing company, known for its mildly risqué “seaside” cards, produced many mocking and emasculating cards against the Germans. British historian G.M...

The most beautiful cards made during World War I are known as “silks.” French and Belgian refugee women would embroider designs on silk—usually incorporating British, French, and American flags—and ship them to factories to be trimmed and mounted onto postcard backs. These were tremendously popular with American and British soldiers stationed in France; it’s estimated that more than 10 million were produced before they died out in 1923.

Some of these postcards had flaps so that a tiny printed greeting card could be slipped between the silk and backboard. Generally they lack postage stamps because they were sent in Military Mail pouches at no charge to the soldier.

Silks were different from “linens,” a new kind of postcard that emerged post-World War I, made from an uncoated card stock that had a fabric-like texture and tended to feature garish colors. During World War II, as in the first world war, servicemen could send postcards home for free. Postcards became an important and easy means for soldiers to connect with their families, wives, and girlfriends back home, a quick way to let them know, “I’m still alive and thinking about you.”

Naturally, postcards were used for propaganda during World War II. Many of these propaganda postcards were relatively innocuous, sent within the U.S. and to and from soldiers, cheerleading the war effort. Evidence also suggests, though, that “black” propaganda postcards were used by the U.S. as a part of psychological warfare.

The Office of Strategic Services put out postcards that appeared to be German in origin, using real German postcard images and German wording that opposed Hitler and the Nazi Party, intended to suggest there was a strong anti-Fascist underground movement. Documentation indicates these cards were printed at a press taken over by the Morale Operation department of the OSS. As these cards were likely destroyed by the Nazis, they are extremely rare; only a few examples are known to exist today.

But for loved ones back home in America, the most popular kinds of cards to send to the boys overseas are what are known as “arcade postcards” or “girlie cards.” Based on the pin-ups of Gil Elvgren, Earl Moran, George Petty, Alberto Vargas, and others, these images of sexy ladies were meant to cheer up and provide a well-earned diversion to war-weary soldiers.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)



This resource for historic arms and armour collectors provides exhaustive information on modern reproductions (cust… [read review or visit site]



Andreas Praefcke's postcard collection of theatres and concert halls worldwide. Showcases 3700 images of over 1810 … [read review or visit site]

The Civil War

The Civil War

Paul McWhorter’s amazing reference site tells the story of the Civil War through high resolution scans of Harpers… [read review or visit site]

Tall Tale Postcards

Tall Tale Postcards

Don't let this one get away from you. This 'unbelievable' collection, from the Wisconsin Historical Society, featur… [read review or visit site]

Mikes Tanks

Mikes Tanks

Mike Seeber’s extensive collection of over 500 diecast tanks and military vehicles, dating back to WWII. Browse b… [read review or visit site]

Clubs & Associations

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

China, The Army Flag Of The Chinese Republic, 1911 - 1928.Postcard Hms Marlborough Embroidered Silk Naval Navy Military Ww1 Badge EmblemRp Charles & Fred Jolly Ww1 Norfolk Regiment Their Home The Willows NeatisheadWwii Germany, Deutsche Reich, Pioniere Flag, Postcard, Postkarte Munchen1918 Pont De L'arche Postcard Photo Ww1 Soldier Car Rouen Vtg Carte PostaleWwii Deutsche Reich, Waffen Ss, Tank, Adolf Hitler Stamp Nurnberg Cancellation1905 Japan Postcard Russo Japanese War Red Cross Nurse Beauty Bandages #19Reg Carter Ww1 Comic Postcard: Bulldog, Poodle, Uncle Sam, Kaiser Wilhelm & Bear1943 Ww2 Women Lady Anti Nazi Axis Germany Hitler War Flag Propaganda PostcardKuwait,war Dance Display By Arabs 1928, Vintage PostcardGermany, The Imperial Eagle In The Luitpold Arena, Nurnberg, Postcard, PostkarteWwii Germany, Deutsche Reich, Waffen Ss Soldiers With Gun, PostcardWwii Churchill And Roosevelt Agree Monte Cassino, PostcardGermany 1st May Celebration National Labour Day, Artist Albert Reich, Postcard1941 Ww2 Anti Nazi Axis Germany Hitler War Army Aircraft Map Propaganda PostcardWwii Deutsche Reich, Unsere Wermacht, Military Gun Machine, Airforce Plane, TankWwii Deutsche Reich, Airforce, Aviator Willrich, Berlin Postcard, PostkarteWwii Deutsche Reich, The Standard Bearer After Painting By Hubert Lanzinger"malta Blitzed": 20 X Original, Wwii Photographs Of Bomb Damage. Exc Con. ScarceVintage Pacific War Japanese Postcard Hawaii Sea Battle Pearl Harbor Navy Ww21 Tsingtao 1904 Used Postcard Arrival Of New Troops In Tsingtau ChinaVintage Japan Postcard Sino Japanese War Bonds Poster Art Navy Warship Military1900s Japanese Postcard Battleship Sea Rising Sun Art Vintage Warship Navy ShipWwii Deutsche Reich, Luftwaffen, Air Force, Plane, Postcard, PostkarteAzo Unused Rppc-wwi-homeward Bound Us Troops Uss Seattle In 4-17-1919-vfAzo Unused Rppc-wwi-homeward Bound Us Troops Uss Seattle In 4-17-1919-vfWwii Deutsche Reich, Waffen Ss, Soldiers Whit Gun Machine, War Scene, PostcardK1467) Ww1 Photo Postcard:: Of A Unknown Tfns Nurse From 1916Wwii Deutsche Reich, Unsere Waffen Ss, Soldiers And Gun Machine, Postkarte1¢ Wonders ~ Wwi Returning Troops Pc Statute Of Liberty Well Done Men - B313Azo Unused Rppc-wwi-first Trip Us Troops Uss Seattle-interior In Jan 1917-vfWorld War Ii Wwii Comic Postcard Linen Set Of 4 Unposted ArmyLot Of 8 B/w Photo Postcards World War 1 Orkney Islands 1917Vintage Japanese Postcard Ww1 Yasukuni Shrine Tsingtao China Map German Army WwiAntique Japan Postcard Russo Japanese War Red Cross Nurse Beauty Bandage #181910-18 Real Photo Chicago Hikers 2 Young Women W/ Badges Gun & Cute Small DogColumbian Soldiers Landing At Colon Nov. 1903 - Panama Maduro Ppc Vintage Juarez, Mexico 13 War Photo Postcards Soldiers, Bodies & More UnusedRppc-welcome Home Troops Sign-angel Island-ca-near Sausalito-marinMississippi, Ms, Columbus, Military Road Nashville To New Orleans 1815 War Pc Embroidered Silk Postcard Aeroplane Soldier Pilot Campaign 1914 Over Tent CampIowa, Spirit Lake, 700 Militia Soldiers, July 1908 RppcRare - Antique Wwi Goderich Camp 1911 Black & White B&w Military PostcardPrince Heinrich Of Prussia In Parade Uniform Of Imperial German Navy - Rare PcdRare - Antique Wwi Goderich Camp 1911 Swallows Tallest To Shortest B&w PostcardCamp Cooke Ca Cal (santa Barbara Co) Rppc Real Photo 1943 Soldiers In Formation4 Antique Rppc Real Photo Postcards Deer Buck Hunters Hunting Rifle Gun Cabin PcWwii Germany, Deutsche Reich, Airship Graf Zeppelin Landing, Unused Postcard1943 Ww2 Disney Mickey Mouse Usa America War Flag Anti Nazi Propaganda PostcardGermany, The Imperial Eagle In The Luitpold Arena, Nurnberg, Postcard, PostkarteWwii In Memory Of The Ceasefire In Compiegne, Unused PostcardLot Of 9 B/w Photo Postcards World War I -british Ships In Scapa FlowWwii Italy, Dono Del Duce, Mussolini, Unused PostcardWwii Germany, Deutschen Polizei Ss, Police Day, Postcard, PostkarteLot Of Two 1938 Hitler Ww Ii German Postcards~unusedWwii Deutsche Reich, German Red Cross Privat Postal Stationery, Unused PostcardWwii Germany, Deutsche Reich, Kameraden, Munchen Haus Der Deutschen KunstAustralia 1915 Post Card From Soldier (reg) In Alexandria Japan Japanese Art Postcard From Army Soldier Military Mail Beauty Chin Dog #14 1909 - 1914 Prairie Depot Ohio Postcard Lot Soldiers, Pennant Real Photo Rppc